Rainbow at Midnight Script, Songs and Staging

CAST: Nataniël, Tonia Selley, Lindiwe Bungane, Corlea and acrobat Bradley Dreyer

MUSICIANS: Charl du Plessis (keyboard), Juan-Pierre Oosthuizen (guitar), Hugo Radyn (drums), Werner Spies (bass)

COSTUMES: Floris Louw

VENUE: Theatre of Marcellus at Emperors

UNTIL: September 28

RATING: ****

He’s such a brilliant showman. Even before the curtain rises, there’s a recorded conversation between Nataniël and cast member Tonia Selley about the use of phones during shows.

He has them on the floor as his familiar voice, world-weary in tone, discusses the upsetting use of phones when artists are pouring their hearts out on stage. It’s incredibly funny and smart and gets his audience in the mood for what’s to come with an appreciation for those on stage and a remarkable resistance to get those mobiles out.

Even then, a few couldn’t resist but at least they waited until he was off stage. The rest of the ensemble (and audience) had to grin and bear it. Sadly, it’s become part of the local theatre landscape.

But then the pictures start rolling as the grand master of storytelling unleashes this year’s grand production. Each year he reinvents his particular brand of theatre, which combines remarkable stories with extraordinary song.

He keeps the formula simple, because that’s what he does, tell stories and sing. But in that framework he is always pushing boundaries and testing the limits of the revamped Marcellus Theatre with much improved sight lines and technical prowess.

It’s pretty pictures up, down and sideways, something Nataniël loves playing with as he builds bigger and better sets. He ramps them up with lighting, which he knows how to use to imaginative effect.

It’s a mix of laughter with lines that have such a strongly South African flavour. Others will catch the joke but those familiar with these shores will dive a few levels deeper as the pictures, the caricatures and the landscape resonate.

That’s what Nataniël does so well. When he conjures up pictures because of his word choice (something as simple as loose change in a schoolboy’s pocket, for example), you get the gist and few pull them out of the bag so smartly and rapidly as he does.

But there’s always a twist, as even the title suggests, of a melancholy that lingers at the end as he launches into song. It’s about the other change, and especially standing back and not taking it any more.

Some might wonder about future seasons, but even though Nataniël longs for other shores and he denies the strong pull of this land, this is where he shines.

This is where the meaning of what he does hits the belly best – and then grinds at just the right intensity to silence the raucous laughter.

This is the third season with the current cast and musicians and they have formed a tight ensemble which allows the creativity to flourish and take its course.

The female voices of Bungane and Corlea with Selley in tow are extraordinary, Swart combines well with Nataniël and his choice of song as well as self-penned numbers all hit the jackpot.

The band are smoking hot and stunningly staged. The way they were seated reminded me of an old portrait, those with individual photos arrange alongside one another in rows.

If theatres are wondering about audiences, the crowds (if one takes the cars into account) are packing it in at the casinos. In stressful times, perhaps, this is what they want but Emperors have done well to balance the often mindless entertainment with a quality act like Nataniël.

He has just the right approach. Get them rolling on the floors and then hit them hard with a creative artistry that never wanes.

It’s delightful as all the different emotions wash over you.

If there was anything I wished for, it would have been for a bit more crazy interaction between him and the larger-than-life puppet! A two-step or a tango perhaps?